The Dorsal Hinge

Pages: 20-21
Year: 1989

For many years, I was confused about the dorsal hinge. My instructors spoke about it, but I never saw it in anatomy books. After a few years, I began to notice more and more in the mid thoracic part of the spinal column without really getting a conceptual handle on it.

For a few months, earlier this year, I kept diagrammatic records by coloringin a copy of a muscle chart for all my clients. Suddenly in flash of inspiration a pattern popped out from all the data.

My problem arose from my own visualization of a hinge, and this limited me for several years. I thought of a hinge as something similar to that piece of hardware which holds a door to the door jamb. The elbow is a perfect hinge joint, opening and closing with the ulna and the numerous defining one plane. The knee is a similar hinge with the femur and the tibia in a single plane. When I thought of the dorsal hinge, I visualized that it opened and closed inflexion and extension.

Now I understand the hinge differently than before. The hinges of the spine are not limited to flexion and extension operating in a single plane. Although this is theoretically possible, it does not fit with the living bodies that come into my office. What I now see with the hinges is their motion is not limited to a single plane, but rather are three dimensional. The hinge accommodates not only flexion and extension, but also allows movement from side to side. If we look at a typical scoliosis, then we see that the changes of direction of the rotation of the segments go through the hinges.

In Rolfing, we talk about two geometrically conflicting ideas: we talk about right-left symmetry and we talk about a basic spiral or rotation in the connective tissue.

From my experience and observation, everybody who comes in the door for their first session has to-date shown as coliosis. It may not be extreme and it may not cause discomfort, but it is there. Between two hinges, the tissue is tight on one side or spread on the other. The pattern of asymmetrical tension in the tissue usually reverses itself in the next section.

What can I do with that? For a long, long time, I tried to straighten out the spine and that helped. I moved bones and balanced tensions in the erectors and all of the things I could do to focus on the issue of straightening the spine. I kept hearing Dr. Rolf’s words, “Go where it ain’t” while I kept going to where it was.

Today, my strategy includes balancing the tension on the ribs and sternum and using them as handles to balance the positioning of the vertebrae.

This quiet flash of intuition about the dorsal hinge came with a sudden realization of an almost universal pattern of tension in the connective tissue and muscles which holds an asymmetry in the ribs, clavicle and scapula and all of this is part of the cause (along with the erector spinae, psoas, pelvic asymmetry, etc.) for the rotational distortion of the dorsal spine above and below the dorsal hinge.

For me, this insight is an extension of two models: Jan Sultan’s model of types and Emmett Hutchins’ model of cylinders.

I now find that dorsal structure has two sides which are asymmetrical. Each of the sides has a typical pattern of tension. I call the two sides C (for Chaplin) and D (for Diplomat). Some people are C on one side and some are Con the other side. There is just enough randomness in clients so that for years, I took the tension where I saw it and where my fingers found it and never saw in my mind’s eye the simple pattern that is, I believe, in fact, there.

Dealing with the sides asymmetrically based on the typical pattern of tension gives me significant changes in a short period of time in the whole thoracic region as well as helps effect the dorsal spine in moving it toward symmetry. I am getting satisfying results on severe scoliosis as well as on the usual run of clients.

Here is the pattern as far as I have observed it. (Left)

Check out the data at left. Does it fit with your clients? Remember that in some people, you get “C” on the right side; and in other people, you will observe “C” on the left.

These are some of the more important details I have observed. Bits and pieces of the type patterns (C and D) of the two halves of the thorax come in times as I see and feel other, as yet undefined, parts of the puzzle.

For me, the more I can predict typical patterns:

the better I see,
the more I am aware of a typical, individual variations
the more attention I can focus on my awareness of what happens under my finger tips when I release tension,
the less force I use,
the more effective I am.

Stanley Rosenberg is a Certified Rolfer in Silkeborg, Denmark.


The tip of the 12th rib is pulled downtowards the lateral edge of the quadratuslumborum and releases by working inferiorto the tip.

Tissue is tight at the costal arch where the10th rib is crossed by the stomach meridian.

The clavicle part of the sternal muscle is tight ,especially over the joints between the 3rd and4th ribs and the sternum.

The tissue over the clavicle is tight where it is crossed by the stomach meridian.

There is a tension between the first two points of the lung meridian (medial to the coracoid process) and the stomach meridian. Work the tissue between the meridians as well as the first two points of the lung meridian.

There is a tightness in the sternal part of the sterno cleido mastoid muscle.

There is tightness in the latissimus dorsi.

Very important: release the tension in the posterior serratus inferior.

Tightness in the teres minor.

Tightness in the levator scapula.

Tightness in the middle trapezius.


11th and 12th ribs are pulled up towards the tenth rib and release by working superior to the 11th rib.

Tissue is tight on the line of the costal arch from the kidney meridian to the center line.

The sternal part of the pectoral major muscle is tight and especially where the stomach meridian crosses the inferior attachment to the ribs and over the hinge between the 6th, 7th, or 8th rib and the sternum.

The clavicle is held out of position by a tension in the tissue of the anterior scalene underneath. Get the attachment of the anterior scalene on the first rib.

There is a tension in the pectoral minor. Get it at the ribs and at the coracoid process.

Tightness in the clavicular part of the sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Tightness in the teres major.

Tightness in the rhomboids.

Tightness in the supraspinatus.

Tightness in the lower trapezius.The Dorsal Hinge

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